The Road To Cardinal Valley by Earlene Fowler: Book Review/Interview/Event

Dec 29, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrance V. Mc Arthur

by Terrance V. Mc Arthur

This week we have a review of the latest novel from mystery writer Earlene Fowler, an interview with Earlene & information on events at Mysterious Galaxy. Also, there are instructions on how you can win a copy of the book at the end of this post.

Earlene will be signing copies of The Road To Cardinal Valley at Mysterious Galaxy’s Redondo Beach store-2810 Artesia Blvd., Redondo Beach, California on January 4 at 7:30 p.m. And on January 6 at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302, at 2 p.m. Also at the end of this post is a link to purchase a copy of the book from Mysterious Galaxy if you can’t be at the signing. If you order before the event you can ask for a signed copy.

The Road To Cardinal Valley by Earlene Fowler
Review by Terrance Mc Arthur

The Road to Cardinal Valley is Earlene Fowler’s follow-up to The Saddlemaker’s Wife, a departure from the Benni Harper mysteries named after quilt-block patterns (Mariner’s Compass, State Fair, etc.). Instead of trying to solve a murder, this book has secrets to reveal: Why would a mother abandon her children? Why would she never return?

Ruby McGavin originally came to the town of Cardinal with her husband’s ashes and part-ownership of the family ranch. She sold her share and left for Tennessee. She’s back, bringing Nash, her smooth-talking, hard-drinking guitarist-brother, in hopes of straightening out his life….and her own, too. Is she drawn to her late husband Cole’s brother, Lucas, a one-time lawyer who is now making saddles? Who can stop Nash’s self-destructive death spiral? Where is her mother, and could she/would she help? Why is Ely, old friend of Lucas and Cole, so eager to help with jobs and transportation, and is he Native American, Asian, or what?

Fowler is an award-winning author and a graciously nice lady to meet. Her mysteries have been marked by a cheerful humor, sharp characterizations, and loving details that bring her version of the San Luis Obispo County region into vivid life. Now, the McGavin series focuses on the Owens Valley/Bishop region of eastern California, with a side trip to the site of the Manzanar detention camp. The cheerfully-warped sense of humor that some felt was lacking in The Saddlemaker’s Wife is making a slow resurgence in Cardinal Valley.

The book bears some of the hallmarks of Fowler’s work that keep her readers coming back for more:

• Older characters that dispense wisdom along with appetizing, down-home cooking.
• Young people who are lively and eager to be on with life, but are in need of care and mentoring.
• Loyal friends who will travel non-stop with you without questioning why.
• Complications that are rooted in the hidden truths of the past.

Relationships veer in unexpected directions in Cardinal Valley, yet they make sense. I think Fowler is finding her footing on the dry soil of Cardinal, creating an interpersonal mystery that seeks to discover who belongs with who, and making the desert blossom like a rose…but beware of the thorns!

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He is currently writing a stage adaptation of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild for the Fresno County Public Library’s next The Big Read. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife, his daughter, and a spinster cat.

Interview With Earlene Fowler:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Earlene: I started when I was about 23. I’m 58 now. So, that’s 35 years. Wow, that’s a long time.

KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called?

Earlene: My first book, Fool’s Puzzle, came out in 1994. It was accepted for publication in 1992. Before that I wrote about 150 short stories, none of which were ever published…or deserved to be.

KRL: How many quilting mysteries have you published now?

Earlene: There are 15 books in the Benni Harper series.

KRL: How did this new series come about?

Earlene: The Saddlemaker’s Wife and The Road to Cardinal Valley aren’t actually a series. Actually, The Saddlemaker’s Wife was supposed to be a standalone novel, but the sales were good so my publisher wanted a sequel. Right now I don’t plan on writing another book about these characters.

KRL: Does it have a mystery twist to it at all?

Earlene: No, even though it is published by Berkley Prime Crime, it isn’t a mystery novel (nor was The Saddlemaker’s Wife). I think my publisher’s reasoning was people look for my books in the mystery section and they might have had a hard time finding it elsewhere. I didn’t agree, but it wasn’t my call. They actually belong in the regular fiction section of the library or bookstore.

KRL: Tell us about the new book.

Earlene: It’s the sequel to The Saddlemaker’s Wife. Since I didn’t intend on writing another book about these characters, when my publisher wanted one, I had to think–what question wasn’t answered in this book? The only one that was apparent concerned Ruby’s mother. She left when Ruby was 13 and was never heard from again. I knew there was a story somewhere. That was my jumping off point.

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?

Earlene: I’ve always loved the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. I used to go to Bishop with my family when I was a kid (my dad loved to fish), then continued visiting there after I got married. It’s a fascinating part of California that not a lot of people know about. In The Saddlemaker’s Wife, the character of Ruby was formed initially when I thought about my character, Benni Harper, who was also a young widow. I wondered what would it be like to be widowed but not enjoy the support that Benni had with her family, friends and small town. That’s what I started with in creating Ruby.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Earlene: When I’m on a book contract I do write almost every day except for weekends. I treat it like a job, because, of course, it is. I worked many years in offices so I find the discipline pretty easy. My biggest problem is not being distracted by something that needs done in the house. With a laptop it became easier to go other places, like coffeehouses or the library, to write.

KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Earlene: No, I never outline. I write by the seat of my pants. With my last few books I did start outlining after I wrote a chapter, which helped me keep track of things. And I ended up with an outline which helped my editor, I think. But I do an incredible amount of rewriting…probably because I don’t outline! But I think you are either and outliner or you’re not. I’m not sure it’s in your control. I tried outlining ahead of time and it didn’t work for me. I change things too much as I go along.

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Earlene: I wrote and mailed out short stories (150 or so) for about 10 years with no publishing success. When I wrote my first novel, I was published fairly quickly. I took a creative writing class at a local community college. The teacher read my novel, sent it to her agent, who accepted me as a client. She then sold it and two sequels about two weeks later.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Earlene: When an elderly lady “mistook” me for Benni Harper and almost hit me with her cane because she thought Benni treated Gabe in a disrespectful way. She slammed her cane on the table I was signing on. My husband was standing right there and it made both of us jump! I remember she was wearing a very elegant lavender suit and had beautiful gray hair done in a French twist.

Earlene Fowler

KRL: What are your future writing plans? Will there be any more quilting books?

Earlene: No more Benni Harper books are in the pipeline for now. I’ve decided to take a sabbatical from writing. I’ve written 19 books in 20 years and I’m tired. I don’t know what’s next. I’m leaving that up to God.

KRL: How does writing this current series differ from your quilting one-or does it?

Earlene: It’s not a series, never meant it to be, so I don’t “think” of these characters in the same way. Those books almost feel more like a very long short story to me. Benni and family feel like…well, family. Maybe because I’ve been with them for so long. I’ve actually lived a double life for twenty years!

KRL: Writing heroes?

Earlene: Eudora Welty, Lee Smith, James Lee Burke, Jessamyn West, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Bobbie Ann Mason, Fannie Flagg, Susan Orlean, Philip Yancey, Craig Johnson…that’s just a short list. I could go on for hours.

KRL: What kind of research do you do?

Earlene: I used to spend a lot of time at the library, but now I have the Internet. I read books on all kinds of subjects and subscribe to about 20 magazines. I listen to people. That’s a big one that a lot of published writers forget how to do. Everyone has a story and most times they are thrilled to tell it to you. It’s a lot easier to do research after you’re published. People talk to you more readily.

KRL: Besides your writing heroes, whose books do you read?

Earlene: Right now what I’m reading is The Cutting Season, a new mystery by Attica Locke. I’m really enjoying it. It’s set in Louisiana where I just went on vacation. I’m also reading Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon and Nearing Home by Billy Graham. I just reread The Christmas Letter by Lee Smith because, well, it’s Christmas and it’s such a good book. It appears light, but you read so much in between the lines of the character’s Christmas letters.

KRL: Favorite TV or movies?

Earlene: Right now I like the TV shows Nashville and Vegas. They are both about towns that I find fascinating. And they are storytelling done “old school,” that is, no fancy stuff, just good writing. My past favorites have been I’ll Fly Away, Designing Women, St. Elsewhere, and Hill Street Blues. I’m partial to books, movies and shows about the South. Some of my favorite movies are On Golden Pond, Murphy’s Romance, Steel Magnolias, Wizard of Oz, and Miss Firecracker.

KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Earlene: Read. Read in the area you want to write and read in other genres, too.(It will help you understand what a cliché is and what isn’t) Write about a million words. Grow a rock-hard shell. Take criticism without whimpering. Listen. Persevere. Remember that you are unique and you aren’t that special. Buy books. Buy more books. If aspiring writers don’t support our industry, who will? Have a hobby other than writing. Exercise and eat healthy (I don’t always follow my own advice). Stay away from daytime TV or you’ll never get anything written. Unless you have the flu. Then you can watch whatever you want.

KRL: Anything you would like to add?

Earlene: Buy books. No, really, I mean it. And read them. Then buy some more. And read them, too.

To enter to win a copy of The Road To Cardinal Valley, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “Cardinal”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 5, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Use this link to purchase a copy of Earlene’s book and you help support an indie bookstores & KRL:

Check out more mystery interviews/reviews by subscribing to the All Mystery e-Newsletter:


  1. Loved the article/author interview with Earlene Fowler. She is one of my favorite authors and is a very caring, loving person!

  2. I’m so looking forward the Earlene’s newest book! She has been one of my favorite authors for many years. Happy New Year!

  3. I am looking forward to reading this! Thanks for the review.

  4. My son introduced me to Earlene around the time she was signing her second or third book. For several years she knew me only as “Bruce’s mother!” I now feel as if she is a good friend. She is a very down-to-earth person and so easy to talk with on line or in person. I have recommended her books to many people. I can’t wait until Saturday to have her sign her latest book!

  5. As always, I can’t wait to read Earlene’s next novel! I had a great time getting to know Earlene and her husband on a couple of quilting cruises I was teaching on.

  6. I’ve read all the Benni Harper books and really enjoyed them. I’m kind of sad that Earlene doesn’t have any more books planned but can certainly understand her needing to take a break. I also enjoyed The Saddlemaker’s Wife and am looking forward to reading The Road to Cardinal Valley. Thanks for this interview with Earlene.

  7. I have read all of Earlene’s books! Thank you for the review and the interview.

  8. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher


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